Khanishah Williams-Burlington-Iowa had every reason to walk away last summer.
She has a degree from the University of Iowa. She has a Big Ten title. And she has a bad knee.
Many have walked away with less, but Williams wanted more.
The summer after winning the 2014 Big Ten high jump championship, Williams had surgery to repair her left knee. It was her dominant leg; the one that won her both Iowa high school and Big Ten Conference championships. But after years of service it needed medical attention.
By Chris Brewer, Courtesy Hawkeye Athletics Click Here!
The surgery cost Williams her senior season. She could have called it a career, but instead she saw an opportunity: If she could not jump from the left leg, she would learn to jump from the right.
“I could have walked away,” Williams said. “It was either give it all up and rest my knee, or keep going and practice the other side and see what I can do.”
For seven years Williams had attacked the high jump with a right-side approach and exploded with her left leg, but that changed when Iowa assistant coach Molly Jones joined the staff in 2013.
Jones implemented a training regimen that included jumps from each leg. It was an uncomfortable move then, but it looks prophetic today.
“When Molly first came here we would practice both sides,” Williams said. “I think testing it out and seeing that helped a little bit because I actually got to practice the other side.”
Last season, while Williams redshirted and rehabbed her left knee, she continued training on her right. She did not compete at all during the indoor season, and entered three outdoor events, winning the Kip Janvrin Open with a season-best mark of 5-6 ½ (1.69m).
It was a solid mark considering the circumstances, and to Jones’ delight, the experience reaffirmed Williams’ commitment to the new approach.
“We met at the beginning of this year and I thought I may have to convince her, but she had already made up her mind that she wanted to stick with the right,” Jones said. “She saw progress and potential.”
It took Williams some getting used to, and there was a time she thought about returning to her dominant leg, but today she doesn’t consider it a possibility.
“I feel good every time I jump. I’ve seen video and I’m over the bar higher each time,” Williams said. “I feel like I’m going to get higher every time I go to each meet.”
In her first official competition since the surgery, Williams placed second at the Border Battle with a mark of 1.60 meters. She followed that performance with a pair of first place finishes at the Iowa Duals (1.73 meters) and Big 4 Duals (1.75 meters), improving her season-best each time.
“I set goals every time I go to a meet,” Williams said. “Either set a new PR or hit something a little higher than I’ve already jumped. Each PR makes you feel good.”
Williams’ career-best 5-11 1/4 (1.81 meters) ranks third in school history. She hit that mark with her left leg in 2013. Her personal best this year, jumping from her right leg, would rank fifth on Iowa’s all-time top performers list. Today her mark ranks 12th in the Big Ten, but if she hits her final goal, she could contend for another conference title.
“I want to keep pushing out what I can do,” Williams said. “I want to get over that six-foot mark. I jumped 5-11 in high school and college. I’ve always been right there. The six-foot mark is personal. That’s the goal.”